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GOP lawmaker introduces legislation to curtail governor’s emergency powers

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

A veteran state lawmaker is moving to strip Gov. Doug Ducey of the powers he assumed when he declared an emergency 10 months ago.

The resolution by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, says that Ducey’s March 11 emergency order has interfered with individual rights. That specifically refers to the stay-at-home edicts the governor issued early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

That has since been allowed to expire.

But Ugenti-Rita said other actions by Ducey remain, including restrictions on how some businesses can operate, have wreaked havoc on the economy.

People out of work has all but depleted the $1.1 billion the state had in March in the unemployment insurance trust fund. Reduced business activity has also cut into sales tax revenues. And Ugenti-Rita said there are projections that up to a quarter of the businesses that shut down during the pandemic will never return.

The senator told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday that she is not disputing the governor’s decision to declare an emergency when the virus first exploded on the scene.

“I have no problem with a governor exercising their authority to issue an emergency,” she said. “But at some point there needs to be an end date.”

Beyond that, Ugenti-Rita said that decisions about mitigation strategies and how funds are allocated need to be decided through the legislative process. And she said that, at some point, it’s no longer necessary for Ducey to have near-absolute powers to issue emergency edicts on everything ranging from how many patrons a restaurant can seat to when children can attend classes.

“This is a health crisis that can definitely be handled using the legislative process,” Ugenti-Rita said.

The governor on Wednesday made it clear he’s in no rush to end his declaration. In fact, he said it needs to continue.

“We’re in a state of emergency,” he said. “We’re going to continue in a state of emergency until that’s no longer necessary.”

Anyway, he said, the legislature is not currently meeting, having ended their 2020 session early as the virus spread.

“They won’t be in session until Jan. 11,” Ducey said.

Ugenti-Rita said that’s no excuse.

“We could have been around if he had called us back into session,” she said. “And we will be around in January.”

More to the point, the senator said that the whole purpose of having a legislature — and not a government run by a single person — is to ensure there is broad debate and broad discussion of the decisions being made.

“The public deserves a seat at the table,” she said. “And one way they have that is through their elected representatives.”

What Ugenti-Rita is proposing is exactly what the law contemplates.

It spells out that gubernatorial-declared emergencies go until the governor decides it is no longer necessary or until the legislature, by a majority of both chambers, votes to end it. That is what her SCR 1001 would do.

And as a resolution, it is not subject to gubernatorial veto.

Aside from trying to end this declared emergency, Ugenti-Rita also is looking ahead to the next time this happens.

She chairs a committee which is reviewing all the current laws dealing with emergencies, with an eye toward amending that to say that they self-destruct within a certain time — she’s not sure when that should be — unless state lawmakers reauthorize it. Had that statute already been in place in March, Ducey would have been unable to continue to issue orders for as long as he has without getting legislative approval.

 

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